The Obama administration announced today that a rule requiring “non-profit religious employers” to comply with the federal health-care law and fully cover contraception would stand -- albeit with a reprieve.
“Non-profit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement released today.
This rule does not apply to churches or other places of worship. However, it does affect employers like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities that in the past have not included contraception as part of their health coverage. Such institutions were hoping for an exemption to this rule -- with groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbying the Obama administration forcefully on their behalf.
The Bishops released a scathing statement that said in part:
“The Catholic bishops of the United States called ‘literally unconscionable’ a decision by the Obama administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans.”
And Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York was quoted as saying: “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
Sebelius said that the concerns of religious organizations were taken into account in the decision, and that the rule has no impact on existing conscience clauses.
“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” said the Health and Human Services Secretary.
She continued, “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
Non-religious employers are required to fully cover contraception in their health insurance plans by August of this year.